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This review is taken from PN Review 76, Volume 17 Number 2, November - December 1990.

PRESUMPTIONS Stephen Gray, editor, The Penguin Book of Southern African Verse (Penguin) £6.99

Thirty years ago, the editor of a new anthology of South African English verse modestly remarked in his introduction that 'it seemed a pity to isolate in a book one group of South African poets and to ignore the work of others plying the same trade but in a different language'. So, for the first time, there appeared within a single volume (and a single language, relying on translations) a remarkable range of poets already familiar within their own linguistic, cultural and racial groups, but hardly known to each other, much less to a common audience. Roy McNab's Poets in South Africa (Cape Town 1958) thus began a tradition of 'liberal' anthologizing designed to resist the divisive pressures of apartheid society - a tradition now taken up by Stephen Gray, who doesn't mention McNab and who gives the tradition a new imperialist twist, by making the concerns of South Africa the concerns of Southern Africa.

There is an undoubted political truth beneath this presumption: when the president sneezes in Pretoria, you can hear it in Windhoek and Luanda, not to mention Bomba and Maputo. The carriers of car bombs enforce the obvious. But poets do not always deal in the obvious; and what is obvious in one place, isn't always the same somewhere else, even if both are prisons. There is an air of special pleading about this new anthology, which strives to create a new literary history of Southern African poetry, from Camoens to Campbell, from ...


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